Peter Hughes of The Mountain Goats On Playing Tucson, Political Music, and Beyond
Peter Hughes has been making music long enough to narrow the process down to a single, telling aphorism: “You just have to check your ego.”
A quick survey of the projects multi-instrumentalist Hughes has led or participated in yields an astounding run of albums of all styles. Yet to hear the ever-humble Hughes tell it, the slew of acclaimed Mountain Goats and solo records he’s made are nothing to be daunted by.
“From the beginning we’ve just been a couple of musical misfits,” Hughes said of himself and principal Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle.
Far removed from the stereotypical rock star, Hughes comes across as something of an anomaly in the music world, content to analyze the potential of communism or casually reminisce about the early days of Mountain Goats as if it wasn’t one of the longest-running indie bands in the game.
But the best Mountain Goats songs are the ones with the most history, and Hughes certainly has history. Hughes has been a member of the band since 1995, when Darnielle invited him on a pair of European tours. He makes no secret of his being an enormous fan of the band, dating back to when Darnielle was the sole member and making records with just a boombox.
“I always felt like the songwriting was so strong and so good,” said Hughes, “so when I joined and we started recording songs as a full band, I thought of it as just a broadening of an already great palette. I just wanted to see more colors.”
After more than a decade of touring, Hughes still maintains his enthusiasm about The Mountain Goats. Always aware of the need to check one’s ego, however, Hughes makes it clear how grateful he is for the opportunity to make a living playing music.
“We are just so lucky, being able to go so many amazing places and interact with people from all over,” he said.
Hughes even singles out Tucson’s Club Congress, the location of The Mountain Goats’ Dec. 9 show, as one of his favorite places he’s played.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been there, but I love Tucson,” he said. “That’s actually a place I’ll go on vacation, like not even as part of a tour. It’s a great scene down there.”
Aside from his commitments with The Mountain Goats, Hughes also maintains a steady and eccentric solo career. Further proving himself to be among the nobler ranks of the indie music world, Hughes explained that his most recent endeavor has been in exploring the nexus between his personal politics and music. His excellent solo effort Fangio (2010) explored Latin American history and communism through a narrative framework, and Hughes has expressed a desire to further address these concerns.
“Thematically I’m trying to do what the Minutemen did by addressing political issues in a way that isn’t total bullshit, but rather is kind of smart and funny,” Hughes said. As with his take on The Mountain Goats, Hughes’ attitude toward music is grounded, at once sincere and self-aware of the hectic world in which he works. No matter what music he’s making, Hughes stands as an example of the success that can come through hard work and an ego check.
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